NOVEMBER 23, 2021

Is Your Boss Gaslighting You?

According to Wikipedia, “Gaslighting is defined as making someone question their own reality, as when someone persistently puts forth a false narrative which leads another person to doubt their own perceptions to the extent that they become disorientated and distressed.”

Gaslighting is a common manipulation strategy of psychological abusers, where the abuser denies the abuse ever took place, attacks the victim for attempting to hold the abuser accountable, and claims that they, the abuser, are actually the victim in the situation, thus reversing the reality of the victim as the offender.  

This usually involves not just playing the victim but also victim-blaming. Gaslighting can be summed up in a simple acronym: D.A.R.V.O. which stands for Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender. 

The impact of this behavior is assimilating, shrinking, and feeling disoriented, like you may be going crazy. It might be hard to tell if your boss is gaslighting you, but there are a few signs that can help you figure out if they are.

While anyone can experience Gaslighting, it is more likely to happen to Women of Color. Here’s an example from the perspective of an African American woman.  

Let’s say you’re in a meeting with your team and unlike past meetings, you decide to speak up and give feedback. Your coworkers respond to you and the meeting continues to flow. An hour after the meeting, your Director calls you in for an unscheduled check-in and sounds super excited. You think he is going to give you kudos on your contribution. Instead, your Director suggests that in future meetings, you should try to be more agreeable and to help to give others a win. “If you have feedback, send it over email,” he says. 

Taken aback, you explain that his advice is consistent with advice that women of color, and black women in particular, receive every single day, but not consistent with advice other groups may receive. 

Your Director becomes emotional and says, “this has nothing to do with your race. You are being sensitive and angry. If you are going to play the race card every time I give you feedback, it’s going to make it really hard for us to work together. I want you to be successful here and I am trying to support you.”

This is a classic D.A.R.V.O. response. The Director denied the behavior that was called out, attacked you for confronting him, and reversed the roles so that he is now the victim and you are the offender. This is gaslighting at its best.

So what do you do when you find yourself being gaslit by your boss?

  1. Document conversations with your boss, particularly when your boss tells you that your recollection is wrong or that you’re misunderstanding them. Take notes when in meetings with your boss. Be sure to document the date, time, and details of the conversation. Follow up with your boss with an email outlining your understanding of the conversation.
  2. Share trends of behaviors and the impact that it has on you, directly with your boss. Don’t be afraid to speak your truth and to let your boss know of cases where they perpetrated gaslighting.
  3. Call a thing a thing! Actually share the language “gaslighting” and define it as a way of educating, so that your boss knows that you know it’s a thing.

Keep in mind that the major sign that your boss is gaslighting you is feeling confused, anxious, or unable to trust yourself at work and unable to trust that your boss has your best interest at heart. If you feel this way, your boss may be Gaslighting you. 

If this is happening to you on a regular basis, the best advice is to recognize that you are in a manipulative situation. Most of the time when people Gaslight you, they are unaware of their behavior and therefore unwilling to make any changes. 

No job is worth your sanity. If you are unable to impact your situation, it’s time to get a coach or update your resume and look for a new opportunity.